Friday, February 19, 2010

THE BOWL: 2/18/10

One of the treasures of the Sandwich Range - and indeed of all the White Mountains - is the glacial cirque enclosed by Mt. Whiteface, Mt. Passaconaway and the Wonalancet Range, known as The Bowl. This deep valley shows no signs of logging, ever, and its floor, at an elevation of 2000-2400 ft., is home to a large stand of old growth hardwoods. Credit for saving this tract from logging in the early 1900s goes to Kate Sleeper Walden and others from the Wonalancet Out Door Club. The Bowl, seen here from the uppermost outlook on the Blueberry Ledge Trail on Mt. Whiteface, is now protected as a Research Natural Area within the Sandwich Range Wilderness. Over the years a number of research projects have been conducted in this unique area.

Another good view of The Bowl is found at an outlook along the Rollins Trail, on the northernmost hump of Whiteface.
I've made several journeys into The Bowl, always in winter, when bushwhacking impact is minimal and there would be no disturbance of research projects. A favorite objective is a ledge on the sidewall with a more intimate view over the valley. In January 1998 I visited this spot with Mike Dickerman, Creston Ruiter and Roger Doucette just three days before the epochal ice storm that devastated parts of the Northeast. When the storm hit we feared for the hardwoods on the floor of The Bowl. Though there was significant damage on the middle elevations of the Dicey's Mill Trail,the old trees in the valley came through relatively unscathed.

Thursday was a good day for a return to The Bowl - the weather was foggy/flurrying in the northern mountains, but there was some sunshine to the south. Visiting Wonalancet in winter requires careful navigation over frost-heaved roads, but once you get to the Ferncroft trailhead - with its idyllic view up to Mts. Whiteface and Wonalancet - it all seems worthwhile.

The Dicey's Mill Trail was bareboot material, an inch or two of new wet snow atop a cement-like track. The temp was near 40, and this patch of bare ground added to the spring-like feel.

Above the climb of the "S-curve," the Dicey's Mill Trail passes through fine northern hardwood forest. The wind was roaring through the valley, but there was bright sun and a blue sky.

A couple of miles in I donned my snowshoes and left the trail, heading NW up to the floor of The Bowl. Some of the hardwoods in here are reputed to be 250 years old.

The experts say that one sign of old growth hardwood is a gnarled crown.

This gorgeous open glade is partway up the valley floor.

In this lower part of the valley the snow was mostly firm, making for great snowshoeing. Farther up the snow was softer and the going more laborious.

An old bear tree.

The valley is drained by the Wonalancet River, which is really a brook. It never seems to freeze well, and in this up-and-down winter it is wide-open, with its mossy rocks on display.

In addition to rambling along the floor of the valley, I wanted to have a look at an ice cliff on a slide along the flank of Mt. Whiteface, which I had admired from below on my first Bowl journey in 1996. This time I aimed to get up higher along the slide for a view. The slide can be seen in the lower center of this view of Whiteface from Hibbard Mtn. on the Wonalancet Range Trail.
I found the lower bed of the slide track/brook and followed it up to the west.

Higher up I followed some moose tracks through deep soft snow and hobblebush.

I came to a major drainage fork where another slide comes down from the NW.

An icy ramp led up towards the ice cliff. On my 1996 visit this had a deep snow cover and I was able to snowshoe right up the brookbed. Only full crampons and ice axe would do for this today, neither of which I had with me. So I snowshoed slowly up through the woods beside the slide.

The ice cliff!

On the north side was a rock overhang with its own ice formation.

I struggled up the steep slope on the north side, gaining a side view partway up.

Through the trees there was a glimpse of Mt. Passaconaway and the headwall of The Bowl.

As I worked my way up, I came to the edge of a narrow parallel slide a short distance north of the main slide.

The snow was deep and soft in here, and there was some thick spruce, one of which gave me a good whack in the eye.

I wanted to get to the top of the lower open part of the main slide, but a small band of ice-draped ledge extended through the woods between the two icy slides. Without crampons and ice axe there was no way to continue up, and I am not a climber anyway. So I settled for an open spot atop the main ice cliff, where I could look up at the top of the open slide.

I carefully worked down to a peek over the crest of the ice cliff.

Here there was a view east over the valley to Hibbard Mtn., with Wonalancet Hedgehog peering over on the left.

I found a safe flat spot to sit on my pack for a late lunch. When I first arrived I hoped to get out to the flat bulge at the top of the picture, but there was glare water ice under a couple of inches of snow. No way!

A slow, careful descent through the steep woods got me back to the base of the ice cliff.

A closeup of the icy ramp below the cliff.

Nice open woods at the base of the slide.

A big rock and big trees.

Boulders strewn in the slide track.

An Ent-moot in The Bowl?

A particularly resplendent sugar maple next to a rock where I took a snack break.

Tracks on the valley floor. Fisher?

An open corridor through the hardwoods.

A glimpse up to the craggy south peak of Whiteface.

The Wonalancet River flows down through The Bowl, with a hint of spring in the air - in mid-February!

Information about The Bowl is found in two articles from the Wonalancet Out Door Club newsletter. Go to, click on "WODC Library," then on "WODC Newsletter." The May 1997 issue has an informative article on The Bowl by the late George Zink, known as "The Father of the Sandwich Range Wilderness." The November 2000 issue has an interesting article by Chris Conrod entitled "Old Trees in a Young Forest."


  1. That ice cliff is simply awesome!

    Your photo of the icy ramp that leads up towards the ice cliff reminded me of a similar-appearing ramp which you & I saw couple of years ago when we explored a portion of the headwall in the Coppermine col area.


  2. Steve,

    What a fascinating place. I'm glad it will remain wild and protected - thanks for sharing the great photos!

  3. John and Chris,

    Thanks - we'll have to go in there sometime, there are a couple more interesting spots to visit.